Wood cutting and splitting

The first cord of firewood we purchased arrived cut and split.  Unfortunately, a “cord” on craigslist is really about 3/4 of a cord if that.  A dry cord of softwood weights 2000 pounds, and hardwood weighs about 4000 pounds.  If your cord of madrone arrives in the bed of a half-ton pickup, send it back.  So … for our second batch, I bought a trailer load of cut pole pines.  The trailer’s volume would hold 2.5 cords, and the length of the wood ensured that it was neatly stacked.  A good deal, with only one small problem: we needed to cut and split it ourselves.

Cutting is a rather straight-forward enterprise requiring only a bow saw and lots of energy.  Bahco is a good brand of Swedish-made saws and blades.  I picked up a 21″ bow saw at Wilco, and some 30″ Bahco blades for a frame saw I intend to build.  However, given the size of the above woodpile, a chainsaw is sadly a much more efficient means of cutting.  I don’t much like chainsaws.  They are noisy, dirty, and extremely dangerous.  They are the ultimate anti-green tool. Also, the average chainsaw injury requires 110 stitches. In their defense, they turn a tree into a pile of logs much faster that any hand tool.

I’d like to issue a big thanks to our neighbor Drew for stopping by with his Husqvarna a couple days after our woodpile was delivered and helping cut some of it.  Robin’s dad, Steve, stopped by subsequently with his chainsaw, and cut more.  I then used Steve’s saw to cut more.  And then the first pile was complete.  The picture above shows the slightly smaller second pile I have yet to cut up.  (The pines, by the way, were runaway Christmas trees, so no old growth trees were hurt in the making of this woodpile.)

Big logs cut up fine on the ground.  You saw most of the way through for all the cuts, then roll the log 180 degrees and finish the cuts. Small logs cut more safely in a sawbuck.  There’s lots of plans available online for these.  I looked through a few, and then built this one using all scrap lumber:

It folds flat for storage, and is set up for cutting 16″ logs on the marked lines.  The pivot bolts are recessed out of the way of stray chainsaw blades.  For small logs (5″ or so), I lift them into the sawbuck, and then cut them by walking from end to end and sheering off 16″ pieces.  When it gets down to the width of the sawbuck, I cut on the lines marked.  Also very handy for hand-cutting with a bow saw.

When the sawing is done, you end up with a pile of logs, many of which will require splitting.  Some people opt for a powered log splitter, but I find it impossible to justify the cost and environmental impact unless you have a firewood business.  Otherwise, your easiest solution is to buy a true splitting maul.  A splitting maul has a wider head than an ax, so it forces the log apart as it enters, but a flat end so you can treat it like a wedge and hit it with a hammer to motivate knotty pieces of wood.

My “buy from small businesses” rule led me astray here, as I don’t really much like the tool I ended up with and I’ve spent about $50 bucks on it counting a new handle (after breaking the first one in 20 minutes … oops) and the stupid rubber thing to save future handles (which causes it’s own set of problems).  My recommendation: if you are cheap, buy the basic 6 lb or 8 lb version at a hardware or farm store.  It looks exactly like a sledgehammer with one face ground into a blade.  It should run about $22.  If you want splitting bliss, buy the fancy 6lb model with flared sides and a double-curve fiberglass handle at Jerry’s.  It is $40.  If I could do it over, I’d get that one.  Oh, and be very careful not to over swing or you will very easily break the handle.  I speak from personal experience.

Anyway, find a maul, get a large log to use as a splitting base to save your back (I need a much wider one), find safety glasses, and swing …

Let me emphasize the safety glasses.  They are obnoxious, especially if you don’t have anti-fog ones, but splitting will often require striking your maul with a sledgehammer.  Last night I broke a small chip of metal off my sledge which shot across the back yard and hit the wood shed with considerable force.  You don’t want to end up a homesteader with an eye patch!

Anyway, a couple hours of splitting made a definite improvement to the state of our woodshed.  I read in a wood heating book that a person can split a cord in two hours.  I’ll need to be in better shape to do that … or perhaps have the deluxe splitting maul at Jerry’s … but it did go much faster than I expected.

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5 Responses to Wood cutting and splitting

  1. A.C. Myers Jr. says:

    Great saw buck. I used PT 2×4 /4ft.
    and 5/4 x6 PT decking boards. Then 1/2-13 carriage bolts
    spaced 16 in from top ends. Spaced 2×4 at 16 in.
    Really a nice saw buck. Thanks for the basic design idea.
    AC Retired engineer,79, K-vet, UF BSEE 1958, Now in Ga.

    • lee says:

      Glad to hear it was useful for you!

    • buzz says:

      cruising the web for images of saw bucks, found your post engaging
      finally built my own sawbuck , don’t know why i waited so long to build this most useful tool

      i used scrap 2x’s salvaged from a waste dump and bolts salvaged from a utility company.

      i don’t burn wood but use rived billets for shop projects, hammer,axe, & maul handles, walking sticks, furniture, ,etc, …the sawbuck sure is a handy device for sectioning logs.

      all good
      thanks for posting


  2. Dusty says:

    When mashing two pieces of metal together you will get a mushrooming. make sure to file or grind so you dont get pieces shooting across the yard.

    • lee says:

      Good advice when your tools show signs of wear. In this case, I was working with new tools and a glancing blow still chipped a bit of metal off. This is one reason that I prefer splitting with a maul (where possible) vs. wedges and a sledge hammer … far less need for metal-on-metal impact.

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